What colour is a horse? It's one of those questions which can be answered by every schoolchild quite easily: usually brown, possibly white or black. This answer is along the same lines as "trees have brown trunks and green leaves", or "rivers are blue": it's much too simplistic (or even just plain wrong).
As wargamers, unless we're concentrating solely on mid-20th century or later, we often need model horses. In this article I'll present a recipe for painting the most common horse colours in as simple a manner as possible.
Note that I've used 28mm horses to illustrate my technique, but it can be used equally for smaller models, especially if some of the steps are omitted. For example, I don't bother to paint hooves on a 6mm horse!
There are many serious articles about horse colours available on the Internet such as these, for starters:
However, what it all boils down to is that unless you are modelling an unusual population of horses, then there are 2 very common patterns: chestnut and bay. These are very similar to each other in technique, so both are covered by this article. However, if you want blacks, whites (actually called "greys" by horse enthusiasts), Palominos or anything else then you'll need to look elsewhere.
DISCLAIMER: I'm not an expert on horse markings, but I've read a fair few articles on painting them over the years. This is my simplified scheme for painting model horses to a standard that looks reasonably convincing to those of us who don't have a great deal of contact with the real, live animals. It works for me, though if I've made any gross mistakes then please feel free to point them out!
Chestnuts and Bays: Base Colour
|Step 1: paint most/all of the horse (both bays and chestnuts) in some shade of brown.
Chestnut and bay horses come in quite a variety of shades of browns: yellowish, reddish, pale and dark. Possibly I've got too much of a range of base colours here (I suspect that within a single herd there would be more animals in the middle range of colours; few would have completely different shades?)
|Step 2: Paint the points of the bays (mane, tail, legs up to the knee) in black
In my simple recipe, the only difference between a bay and a chestnut is this step. The bays have their legs, mane and tail painted black. The chestnuts just skip this step.
|Step 3: drybrush the mane and tail with a paler colour
Some chestnuts (?) have manes and tails that are darker than their coats, but in this production line method I always use a paler colour. If you're feeling really fancy then you could use 2 or 3 successively lighter shades for drybrushing; I only used one in this example.
|Step 4: paint 1, 2 or 3 white socks on each horse
Almost all horses (?) have white socks on some, but not all of their legs. As with human socks, these can be just around the ankle, almost up to the knee or pretty much anywhere in between. I don't think that I'd mix different lengths on the same creature, though.
|Step 5: paint the hooves in grey. I use a "lichen grey" that is slightly green-tinged.
Technically, a horse's hoof colour can vary depending on whether the leg is pale or dark. However I don't think that most gamers would notice such a detail. For simplicity, I just use a single colour for all hooves.
|Step 6: paint muzzles with either (Caucasian) flesh or dark grey/black
Most/all horses have some different colouration around the muzzle. This can be either a pinkish flesh or a black and it can cover anything from just the tip of the nose & lips to half the face or more.
|Step 7: paint a white flash, blaze or star on the forehead
As with the socks, most/all horses have a white mark on the forehead. This can be anything from a small spot to a considerable vertical stripe or mask and there is a large set of technical terms for the various shapes and sizes of such markings. For simplicity, I'll just say that I put a white "splodge" on my horses' heads.
|Step 8: paint the eyes and nostrils with black
The last detail that I add is to spot the eyes and nostrils with black paint. Of course, if the horse has its mouth open then the mouth and teeth will have to be painted as well, but that's very simple. Also, if this is a draft or cavalry horse then it probably has some form of harness; that'll need to be painted at this stage too. I'll leave it to your imagination, then...
|Finally, use a black wash to bring out the contours
Lastly, I paint the model all over with a thin, black wash. This will darken the colours slightly, but more importantly it adds definition to muscles, hair and other textures.
|Based and ready for action! Note that there are a couple of "paint" horses in with the bays and chestnuts
The painted horses can then be based as you see fit. This lot are a herd that I may use in Old West games, either in a corral or as wild animals. They could be the target for rustlers, a dangerous stampede or just movable cover for gunmen!